After facing intense pressure from his own Party to resign, Senator Al Franken gave his farewell speech from the Senate floor on Thursday. He maintained that some of the allegations against him are false and other instances he recalls differently, but he made the decision to step aside regardless. In his emotional speech, Franken also took a moment to highlight the irony – or some would say hypocrisy – of the moment: “I, of all people, am aware that there is some irony in the fact that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his Party." He is absolutely correct. This dichotomy is truly remarkable, not only because of Republican inability to hold people accountable, but also because of Democratic ability to quickly clean house every single time.
When Michelle Obama was stumping for Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election, she delivered many memorable words and brought a level of decorum to the campaign cycle that was anything but decent. One eloquent phrase in particular resonated with her supporters, with Clinton’s supporters and with the nation on an intense level: “when they go low, we go high”. It’s what parents teach their children, what conflict resolution experts advise troubled youth, what counselors impart on those with anger management issues and what all decent people would like to subscribe to. But in the sport of politics, where pretty much anything goes, it is completely the wrong mentality. When we live in a society where ‘being tough’ is treasured, where our response to any disagreement is threatening war or dropping bombs on people and where ‘punching back harder’ is repeatedly valued over intelligent nuanced discourse, then how in the world could the mantra for a political party be going higher and rising above the nonsense?
Early this week, President Donald Trump confirmed speculation and officially endorsed Roy Moore in the upcoming Senate race in Alabama. The Republican National Committee soon followed and reinstated their support of a candidate accused of sexual misconduct against teenage girls, as did the National Republican Senatorial Committee. The RNC in fact gave $170,000 to the Alabama Republican Party to support candidate Moore. Even before Trump announced his official endorsement, he was already scheduled to hold a campaign event just 25 miles away from the Alabama border four days before the Dec. 12th special election.
Trump backing Moore despite the multiple claims against him – claims that are quite horrific - shouldn’t come as a surprise, for it is the same manner in which he handled his own sexual assault accusations: deny, deflect and go on the offensive. It’s what Republican politicians do time and again in a host of situations. Whether it’s sexual assault accusations, prejudiced comments, biased actions or anything else that would otherwise end someone’s political pursuits, Republicans double down, triple down or quadruple down and fight. They put others on the defensive and make themselves out to be the victims. Democrats can’t stand any kind of heat, while Republicans not only dwell in the heat but light a match to ignite an even larger flame that engulfs their opponents.
It’s important to remember that the history of Democrats running from conflict or perceived controversy (whether or not that controversy is true) is nothing new. The Washington Post recently exposed video editing master James O’Keefe and his group Project Veritas for their pathetic attempts to discredit the Post’s meticulous and careful reporting on the Moore story. While it’s great that the Post was able to catch them in the act and show the world what they truly are – a bunch of disingenuous provocateurs - O’Keefe and his pathetic right-wing ensemble have done plenty of damage in the past. Unfortunately, Democrats were all too quick to give in to their smear campaigns and all too quick to throw their supporters under the bus.
Following the election of the first African American President, O’Keefe and an accomplice posed as a pimp and a prostitute in order to infiltrate and ‘expose’ the community organizing group, ACORN. At the time, ACORN was one of the largest, if not the nation’s largest, grassroots community organization with more than 400,000 members that registered millions of new voters and helped thousands of families keep or buy homes, among other work. In their ‘sting operation’, O’Keefe and his partner secretly filmed ACORN workers and attempted to discuss things like a supposed plot to traffic underage girls across the border.
After O’Keefe’s doctored videos surfaced (thanks to places like Breitbart, yes, that Breitbart), there was intense pressure for the organization to lose its funding and that’s precisely what happened – including from a Democratic-controlled Senate which voted 83-7 to deny ACORN millions in federal housing money (the House also overwhelmingly voted to strike ACORN funding). There was a ripple effect and ACORN also lost funding from many groups like the Ford Foundation and others, and eventually folded in 2010. Fast forward to 2013, and O’Keefe agreed to pay a former ACORN employee $100,000 to settle a suit after this employee was fired because of one of these undercover videos where O’Keefe reportedly tried to discuss trafficking underage girls. Turns out that employee called police after O’Keefe left – too bad politicians and funders didn’t wait to find out whether or not that video and others were valid and unedited before severing ties.
Back in 2009, the right-wing also took aim at a White House environmental adviser named Van Jones, dubbed “the green jobs czar” (full disclosure, he is a friend). In a vicious smear campaign, they accused him of being a communist, of having affiliations with 9/11 truthers and other things. Again pushing their propaganda, misrepresenting reality and taking things out of context, the right took aim at the White House through Jones. The chairman of the House Republican Conference at the time, Mike Pence, called for Jones to resign or be fired. Sadly, it worked and Jones soon resigned.
In the summer of 2010, Breitbart published a video of an Agriculture Department official, an African American woman named Shirley Sherrod, supposedly making racist remarks about not assisting a white farmer years ago who was facing foreclosure as much as she could have. Within a week, she was forced to resign and condemned by everyone, including the NAACP. Turns out that this video was also doctored, and again, Brietbart was more than eager to publish it. The truth of the matter was that the rest of Sherrod’s statements went on to say that she knew this was wrong and assisted the white farmer, but that part was conveniently left out of the video. The farmer and his wife publicly credited Sherrod for saving their farm. The White House and Secretary Tom Vilsack later offered apologies to Sherrod. She was also offered a new job within the department, which she unsurprisingly turned down.
People like O’Keefe and propaganda outfits that disguise themselves as legit news organizations like Breitbart and others have been doing this for years. In many instances they got away with targeting people, getting them fired or removed from their position and ruining their lives. The Post did a fantastic job in catching O’Keefe and giving him a dose of his own medicine while exposing him and his cohorts for the frauds that they truly are. The question that progressives and the Democratic Party alike should be asking themselves is why is it that in almost every single instance, people were so quick to walk away from the accused? And why do they continue to distance themselves almost instantaneously from anyone even before all the details surface or that individual has been given due process?
I want to be very clear that I am in no way supporting the actions of anyone accused of sexual assault, nor am I saying that Franken’s accusers or Conyers’ (who also announced his resignation this week) are lying. As a woman, I think it’s great to see this moment when more and more of us are empowered to speak out and push back against misogyny wherever it exists. What I am saying however is that there needs to be one standard across the board – either everyone goes or nobody goes. To echo Franken, he is stepping down at a moment when Trump and Moore remain and have the support of their Party.
Instead of doing the Republicans’ job for them and getting rid of people right away for the sake of some proverbial higher moral ground, perhaps Dems should learn that morality really doesn’t exist in today’s political realm. If an accused child predator can get the full support of an accused sexual assaulter who won the Presidency despite these allegations and the RNC supports them both, well then the next time a Democratic politician is accused of something, or some sort of video surfaces supposedly showing a person or an organization in a disparaging manner, then Democrats might want to actually wait for the facts to be ascertained - and in the meantime get in the ring.
After all, if you choose to be in the dirty game of politics, then you have to be willing to get in the mud and fight every now and then.